A chassid went to the Baal Shem Tov in Mezhibuzh and said, “Rebbe, I want to see Elijah the Prophet.”
“It’s simple,” said the Baal Shem. “I’ll tell you what to do. Get two boxes and fill one with food and the other with children’s clothes. Then, before Rosh Hashanah, travel to Minsk. On the outskirts of town, right before where the forest begins, is a dilapidated house. Find that house, but don’t knock on the door immediately; stand there for a while and listen. Then, shortly before candle-lighting time at sunset, knock on the door and ask for hospitality.”
He went and did as the Baal Shem Tov told him. He filled the parcels with food and clothing and went to Minsk, where he found the broken-down house at the edge of town. He arrived shortly before evening and stood in front of the door, listening. Inside, he heard children crying, “Mommy, we’re hungry. And it’s Yom Tov and we don’t even have decent clothes to wear!” He heard the mother answer, “Children, trust in G‑d. He’ll send Elijah the Prophet to bring you everything you need!”
Then the chassid knocked on the door. When the woman opened it, he asked if he could stay with them for the holiday. “How can I welcome you when I don’t have any food in the house?” she said. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I have enough food for all of us.” He came in, opened the box, gave the children the food, and they ate. Then he opened the other box and the children all took clothes for themselves: this one a shirt, that one a jacket, the other one a hat. He was there for two days, waiting to see Elijah the Prophet. He did not even sleep. How could he sleep? How often do you get a chance to see Elijah the Prophet? But he saw no one.
So he returned to the Baal Shem Tov and said, “Master, I did not see Elijah the Prophet!” “Did you do everything I told you?” asked the Baal Shem Tov. “I did!” he said. “And you didn’t see him?” “No, Rebbe.” “Are you sure?” “Yes, Rebbe! I didn’t see him!” “Then you’ll have to return for Yom Kippur,” said the Baal Shem Tov. “Go back before Yom Kippur, with a box of food, to the same house. Again, be sure to arrive an hour before sunset, and don’t knock immediately. Wait for a while and just stand in front of the door, listening.”
So he went back to Minsk before Yom Kippur. This time, he went earlier and stood in front of the door, listening. Inside he heard children crying, “Mommy, we’re hungry! We haven’t eaten the whole day! How can we fast for Yom Kippur?” “Children!” said the mother. “Do you remember you were crying before Rosh Hashanah that you had no food or clothes? And I told you, ‘Trust in G‑d! He’ll send Elijah the Prophet, who’ll bring you food and clothing and everything else you need!’ Wasn’t I right? Didn’t Elijah come and bring you food and clothing? He stayed with us for two days! Now you’re crying again that you’re hungry. I promise you that Elijah will come now, too, and bring you food!”
Then the chassid understood what his master, the Baal Shem Tov, had meant. And he knocked on the door.
This story is the lesson of Isaac our forefather. Very little is written about Isaac compared to his children and parents; rather, Isaac simply continued the path carved out by his parents and his life mirrors theirs in many ways:
He deals with famine and goes to Gerar
He confronts Avimelech the King of Gerar
He re-digs his father’s wells which were covered up and he renames them the same names.
The fact that he redug his father’s wells to uncover the water is symbolic of his ability to uncover something of value in what appears valueless.
Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches that as part of life, “there needs to be a conscious awareness of a search for meaning that underlies everything; a process of “opening the wells” and discovering “living waters” [like in the case of Isaac.}
The water is there but we don’t see it. Rabbi Sacks says that this is the gift of Shabbat, in that it allows you to stop to allow your blessings to catch up. The blessings are there, I just don’t see them yet.
This is the message of Isaac to us: to have the fortitude to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary; and that there is beauty at the core of life.